STRATHAM, N.H. — Mitt Romney officially launched his second bid for the presidency Thursday by making the case that he's the best candidate to salvage an economy decimated by the Democratic administration.
Standing outside in shirtsleeves near a barn decorated with his campaign slogan, "Believe in America," Romney told about 1,000 supporters gathered for the announcement that President Barack Obama, "has failed America."
Romney, a Boston-based businessman who amassed a personal fortune turning around troubled companies, warned the nation "is only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy" because of too much federal government spending.
He said his time as the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as well as his quarter-century of business experience and term of governor of Massachusetts have prepared him to run the country.
"In the campaign to come, the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear and unapologetic defense, and I intend to make it — because I have lived it," Romney said, pledging that job creation will be his top priority if elected.
Romney also spoke of states rights, promising to force Washington "to respect the Constitution" and return the responsibility for dozens of government programs to the states beginning "with a complete repeal of Obamacare."
He made only a brief reference to his own Massachusetts health care program that has been criticized by conservatives, suggesting it was an imperfect, but pragmatic response to spiraling taxpayer costs.
The president, Romney said, solves problems by taking power away from individuals along with local and state governments. "With each of these decisions, we lose more of our freedom," he said.
"You heard today what Romney's message is going to be to Republican primary voters," said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor who attended the announcement.
That message is a shift from Romney's attempts in the 2008 presidential race to appeal to so-called values-based voters by emphasizing his stands on social issues, Scala said. Those voters, he said, saw Romney as a late convert to their causes.
This time around, he said, Romney is presenting himself as a non-ideological problem-solver combined "with an attack on the president that discussed a lot about values."
Instead of talking about social issues such as gay marriage or abortion, Romney "talked about what he described as American values, especially economic opportunity" and in so many words, suggested Obama is, in effect, un-American.
"He's going to run a lot more like the Republican he actually is, which is a right of center Republican whose emphasis is going to be on the economy and jobs," Scala said. Still, it's not clear that will be enough for many primary voters.
"He's going to be accused of being too much of a compromiser," Scala said. "That's going to be the big question going forward."
Romney made the announcement at Bittersweet Farm, owned by a former speaker of the New Hampshire Legislature, Doug Scamman. New Hampshire was also the backdrop for Romney's online announcement in April that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee.
New Hampshire, which is first in the national primary next year, is being described as a must-win state for Romney, who finished second there in his 2008 White House bid to the party's eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said it's been clear that Romney is focusing on New Hampshire this election cycle. In 2008, Romney invested major campaign resources in Iowa but still lost the caucus vote to former Gov. Mike Huckabee.
"He just just seem to want to put that much effort in to Iowa this time," Hagle said, possibly because he believes he can't win over the more socially conservative Republican caucus voters.
Nationally, though, Hagle said the economy will be the biggest issue in the campaign. And, he said, Romney is smart to sell himself as one of the only candidates with experience as both a business and elected executive.
"What's going to help him make that case is what happens with the economy," Hagle said. "It's not likely anything good is going to happen that quickly."
David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, said Romney also has something else much of the rest of the GOP field is lacking — experience running for president.
"That showed up today in his casualness," he said, noting Romney wasn't wearing a jacket or a tie when he made his announcement even though in 2008, he presented himself as a button-up candidate. "I thought he slept in a tie."
It's smart for Romney to focus on his fiscal experience, Woodard said. "What's going for him this time is the sinking economy."
Romney faces a growing field of GOP competitors in his second run for president, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and possibly, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Just two weeks ago, Romney raised $10.25 million in a single day by having prominent supporters from around the country staff a phone bank in Las Vegas. A number of Utahns participated, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
Utahns backed Romney's 2008 presidential bid in a big way, donating millions of dollars to his campaign and giving him an unprecedented 90 percent of the vote in the state GOP primary over McCain.
The Utahns heading up Romney's national finance team sent out an email Thursday highlighting the announcement and inviting supporters to a pair of fundraising events in Salt Lake set for June 24. The events, which cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend, will be held at the Orem home of APX Alarms owner Todd Petersen and at the Grand America Hotel.
Romney earned the support of Utahns by turning around the troubled Salt Lake Olympics. The Brigham Young University graduate was brought in to run the Olympic organizing committee at the height of an international bid-buying scandal that had shamed the state.
After the Olympics ended, Romney returned to Massachusetts and successfully ran for governor. His previous political experience had been a failed bid in 1994 to unseat the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, a powerful Democrat.
His 2008 race drew national attention to his LDS faith. Romney ended up giving a major speech on religion in Texas to answer some of the questions raised, especially from evangelical voters who don't consider Mormons fellow Christians.
Both Romney and Huntsman are expected to be campaigning in New Hampshire on Friday. Romney will hold his first official town hall meeting as a 2012 presidential candidate at the University of New Hampshire in Manchester Friday morning.
Huntsman, who has yet to announce whether he is running for president after serving as U.S. ambassador to China, is scheduled to be in the Granite State through Sunday, starting with a speech some 50 miles away from Manchester at a GOP gathering aboard a boat Friday evening.
This story was reported from Salt Lake City